Fayetteville police Sgt. Caleb Hudson called it “a normal day.”
That was before he put his life on the line and coordinated the safe evacuation of employees out of the back door of the Taco Bell on Bragg Boulevard.
The date was Feb. 15, 2021, and Hudson entered the business to confront an armed offender who had told the manager that he would kill every woman inside the restaurant. The man, who was homeless, took several large machetes out of his backpack and laid them on the table in front of him.
A trained crisis negotiator, Hudson said his intention was “getting him out of there as safely as I could. I couldn’t have gotten him out of there without my squad.”
Hudson, 43, was among seven people recognized Tuesday morning with the top honor at the 2022 Public Safety Valor Awards in a ceremony in the Worship Center at Manna Church. About 300 people attended the awards presentation, which was organized by the Greater Fayetteville Chamber.
Overall, 69 valor, lifesaving, merit and citizens awards were presented to first responders, law enforcement officers, fire and rescue personnel, and others from Fayetteville and Cumberland County to recognize their acts of bravery for the greater good.
As Chaplain Kenny Tatumn, assistant chief of the Fayetteville Fire Department, said during the invocation: “This room is full of heroes and champions.”
The valor award, as described in the handout program, is “the highest award for valor and heroism. Awarded to cases in which a public safety official knowingly places themself at risk of death or extreme bodily harm in the performance of an official act.”
Others receiving valor awards on Tuesday included Capt. Jeffrey McPhail and firefighter Spencer Rowell, both of the Fayetteville Fire Department; Officer Pedro Delgado and Detective Sarah Shirey of the Fayetteville Police Department; and paramedic Christopher Dudley and emergency medical technician Haley McQueen of Cumberland County Emergency Management Services.
Sixteen people received lifesaving awards in recognition of action taken in situations in which someone’s life was in jeopardy for medical or physical reasons.
Sgt. Hudson called the Taco Bell incident “unexpected.”
“It was a normal day of work for a cop,” he said. “I trusted my guys to take care and protect me.”
Hudson, who has been in this line of work for 15 years, attempted to resolve the situation without lethal force.
“It was apparent that the offender’s intentions were to commit ‘suicide by cop,’” said the Valor Awards program.
Hudson was able to get the man to agree to board an ambulance and get help if Hudson would give him a specific brand of cigarettes. While other officers remained outside the business, Hudson drove to a nearby store and bought the man a pack of the cigarettes he had requested.
“Eventually, the offender exited the business unarmed and got on an ambulance to be transported for psychiatric treatment,” the program states. “Sgt. Hudson selflessly placed himself in front of an armed offender suffering from a mental crisis, and because of his actions, the Fayetteville Police Department did not have to take a life. Sgt. Hudson’s actions that night were a tremendous display of courage and commitment to all human life.”
A video of the awards ceremony is available online at the Greater Fayetteville Chamber Facebook page.
The People’s Choice Award was presented to Kerrie Ruppert, a 911 communications supervisor with the Police Department. As she continues to battle cancer, “her commitment to the citizens of Fayetteville and the Fayetteville 911 center remains steadfast,” the program said. “She refuses to be treated differently or feel that she is receiving special treatment.”
Fayetteville Technical Community College President Larry Keen presented Fire Chief Freddie L. Johnson Sr. with the Valor Awards’ first Leadership Award.
“I think one of the things we all understand is that the most uncommon thing in the world is an uncommon person or a common person,” Keen said. “And I think we’ve been around people today that would say, ‘I’m nothing special. I’m just a common person.’ Really, the truth of the matter is these common people, like all of us in this room, they find something special. Where they move forward and do the things that are so well represented in the awards that were provided today.”
Johnson has compiled a 47-year career in the fire service and law enforcement. He heads the Stoney Point Fire Department and Fire Station 19. He served 23 years in the Army.
“I was actually surprised,” Johnson said after the ceremony. “I didn’t know this was coming. Everything Dr. Keen said was on the money. I still enjoy it.”
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.